As reported earlier today by ESPNLA’s Blair Angulo, UCLA junior running back Johnathan Franklin will return for his senior season. I caught up with him briefly, and his return boils down to one thing: He wants to win. Franklin spoke to Jim Mora yesterday about the specific plan the new UCLA head coach has to turn things around, and Mora made it quite clear that his goals are not to take baby steps.
In 2011, Franklin narrowly missed out on becoming UCLA’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since DeShaun Foster, finishing with a team-high 976 yards with five touchdowns. After the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Franklin said he would make his decision this week and said that he never filed NFL Draft evaluation paperwork. Now the Bruins wait on the word of junior defensive lineman Datone Jones, who receives his draft evaluation this week and has until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.
Here’s our brief chat:
JG: How close were you to actually declaring for the NFL Draft?
Johnathan Franklin: “It was pretty much a 50-50 decision. I was ready to go. I met with coach Mora yesterday, talked to a couple teammates, and I ended up changing my mind. I sat down with my mom, talked to my dad, and they convinced me to stay.”
JG: I know so much of this decision to even test the waters was because of your frustration with losing; what did coach Mora say regarding his desire to not just turn things around, but do it quickly?
Johnathan Franklin: “Coach Mora wants to win. He’s going to do whatever he can to win a championship. He’s not worried about a Rose Bowl. He wants a championship. He wants to turn this program around. He’s going to bring in the right players, create the right philosphy, install the right discipline.”
JG: If you had to boil UCLA’s issues down to one thing…
Johnathan Franklin: “The problem is a lack of leadership. Even speaking from my perspective. I need to step up as a leader. The seniors need to step up as leaders. This program has lacked a great leader. Regardless if coach Mora is here or not, we need great leaders.”
JG: You look at what a new coach can do in one season – look at Michigan, and what Brady Hoke has done there so quickly – so what’s the goal for you now? I know you’re not looking to go from 6-8 to 7-5…
Johnathan Franklin: “Nope; 12-0. It’s hard work, commitment. Leadership. We need leadership. And that doesn’t come from one guy. Leadership is plural. We need every guy buying in to being great. The whole team wanting to win. We have to want these things and believe in these things.”
JG: UCLA’s incoming offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, is known for using his running back out of the backfield; are you looking to boost your stock by being a more complete back? Was that a major reason for your return?
Johnathan Franklin: That would defintley be great. Before I get to the NFL, I want to win for UCLA. Although I want to be an early round pick. I want to win. I want to be 10-2, 12-0. I want to do whatever I can to help this team win now.”
JG: You mentioned speaking to some players about your return, whom did you talk to and why?
Johnathan Franklin: “I talked to Kevin Prince, Brett Hundley, Jerry Rice, Shaq Evans, Patrick Larimore and Aaron Hester. Guys who have played a pivotal role in the past, in terms of playing time, guys i know I can trust on the field and off the field to do the right thing.”